Bad Farming Worse than Prostitution?

1930s dust bowl created by extreme erosion and drought

As we’re trying to bring our farm back to health, we’ve discovered old farming books that are full of ideas and methods for rejuvenating farm soil.  Most of these books were written in the 1930s and 40s.  This was a turning point in American farming history as farmers were running into a wall with their old style of “burn-out” farming.  Before this time, farmers had the wide-open opportunity to simply move west to virgin soil when they burned out their current farm.  That farmer migration trend was slowing down fast in the 1940s, so farmers began to search for methods to ensure soil fertility and high crop yields on the farms they already had.

Louis Bromfield

Enter Louis Bromfield, the famous Ohio farmer.  He pioneered the new methods for ensuring fertility in farming.  Throughout his 1948 book, Malabar Farm, he juxtaposes the new methods of caring for soil with the farming of the Great Depression and “Dirty Thirties”.  This really touched home for me because Oklahoma is my home state, and I have grandparents who tell some horrific Dust Bowl stories.  Bromfield pleads his case with the reader:  that the old way of farming is a dastardly waste of American resources, and burned-out soil eventually results in poor human health and intelligence.

He really gets into it on page 4 of Malabar Farm:

“Agriculture is the oldest of professions.  Yes, it is older even than the one you are thinking of, for it began when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and prostitution did not begin until at least one more woman entered the world.  It should be remembered that both professions spring from fundamental urges in man:  (1) The necessity to eat; (2) The urge to propagate, legitimately, indiscriminately, or otherwise.  They exist in the above order, since to exist at all man must eat and to insure his continuation on this earth he must propagate.  Both urges have been since the beginning of time subject to debasement and greed and ignorance.  There is as much original sin in poor agriculture as there is in prostitution, and a good deal of the agriculture practiced in this country is in itself no more than prostitution.  The speculating wheat farmer, the farmer who “wore out three farms and was still young enough to wear out a fourth,” the miserable one-crop cotton farmer are all cases in point.  All three represent a whorish agriculture and certainly such an agriculture has been until recently as prevalent in this country as prostitution itself.  It is difficult to say which is the more devastating to the welfare, morality, health, and security of the individual or the nation.”

Large-scale monoculture farming is destroying our soil. Mother Earth News "The Truth About Vegetarianism"

If he were alive today, I’d love to hear his opinion on today’s farming.  His predictions of poor human health have come true, and we have evidence that a calorie today, whether it’s fresh produce or animal products, will provide less nutrition than a calorie from 100 or even 50 years ago.  This is all due to soil depletion and propping up plants and animals on chemical crutches.  Soil can no longer provide natural health and fertility for plants and animals, so we provide them with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics.  We all probably have people in our lives that cannot function normally without pharmaceuticals.  We’ve put our soil and our farms in the same situation.  This might be fine with some people, but Louis Bromfield shows us it doesn’t have to be that way.  With the help of intelligence and diligent work on the part of the farmer, soil fertility can come back in a surprisingly short amount of time.  It’s not too late.

Part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by BE on August 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Did he just call Eve’s daughter a slut?


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